Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Friday, 13 January 2006

Mendes' anti-war-movie war movie

Oscar-winning British director Sam Mendes has told the BBC he tried to take a new approach to war movies for his latest film, Jarhead, set in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

Sam Mendes
Mendes says his film questions the point of going to war
Based on the 2003 book by former marine Anthony Swofford, Jarhead details troops' experiences in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait preparing for Operation Desert Storm.

But Mendes, who won a best director Oscar for his debut American Beauty, said that to call it a war movie would be a misnomer - that it is a film about the soldiers, but not the conflict.

"If you go expecting a combat film, which most war movies are, then inevitably it will frustrate you," he told the BBC.

"But to me, Tony Swofford's book, on which the film is based, is a meditation on why men want to go to war, and what makes them continue to want to go to war even in times like these when clearly the war is not successful.

"That struck me as something very interesting. That's what attracted me to it, because it wasn't a conventional war story."

Anthony Swofford
Anthony Swofford's book, on which the film is based, was a bestseller

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford himself, with the film detailing his view of what happened in the build-up to the war.

Mendes said he was much taken with details in Swofford's book that he had not been previously aware of - such as the fact troops were on the ground for seven months before the war began.

The film focuses on that period, with many scenes detailing the "sense of unfulfilled bloodlust" felt by frustrated soldiers ready, but not yet able, to fight.

Mendes said he decided to plant the irony of this early on in the film, showing the soldiers' anticipation of action growing as they watch war films, such as Apocalypse Now, that were actually made with an anti-war message.

"What happens is that they create their own war," Mendes said.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Anthony Swofford

"They create their own mini-wars within that situation."

Mendes said that for some, the film would give the impression that nothing had really happened - it ends with the line, "We're still in the desert."

But he added that this was actually his message.

"Do any wars go anywhere? That's the point," Mendes said.

British future

He also explained that he had resisted the temptation to overtly make political points about the current situation in Iraq.

"I could easily have swamped the film with polemic, and effectively said, 'We messed it up then, and we're messing it up now.'

I very much now want to make a non-American film
Sam Mendes
"But I think that I'd like the audience to draw their own conclusions from the movie."

Meanwhile, Mendes also said that having now made three rather bleak films about American experience - Jarhead following American Beauty and Road to Perdition - he now plans to focus on Britain.

"I don't know quite why I've ended up doing these three films, but I very much now want to make a non-American film after this one," he said.

"I think it's time to come back closer to home. What I would like is to try and find something that has the same scale.

"That's not necessarily a period film, but I think I'd like to have something that makes demands on me as a film-maker."

Jarhead is out in the UK on Friday 13 January.

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